Wednesday, November 6, 2013


The brass lock I'm pointing at is illegal.

The steel gate I'm pushing open is illegal.

This pink steel, floor-to ceiling gate that's in our third floor hallway is breaking the law.

We've didn't know it, but we have been breaking the law for a long time.

We live in a four-story building we bought a long time ago. (Before John was earning a good living as an actor, my mom lent us the down payment.)  We occupy the top two floors. Income from our two tenants below enables us to live and work rent free.

Our home on the top floor is fancifully, super colorfully decorated by me, (using "On A Clear Day" and "Shenandoah" money John earned when he starred in those Broadway musicals.) We've got got curved, cloth-covered walls, enamel ceilings, skylights, a green living room like an outdoor garden, a brick-walled bedroom with shutters like an attic, a fabulous Halloween-colored kitchen. Our two offices and studio theater are on the third floor.

During John's money-making days, playing "Holling the Bartender" in the hit television series, "Northern Exposure," we installed a 15 foot tall steel frame with a door, in our third floor's red-carpeted hallway. The steel mesh, painted pink to go with the orange and pink walls, has enabled us to connect the third and fourth floors. With each floor being 2,200 square feet, we've got ourselves a uniquely gorgeous, sort of sprawling mansion, in the heart of Manhattan.

Two months ago, fire inspectors, inspecting all the buildings on our block, told us "That gate is a violation. It's got to come down." We sort of shrugged, and nodded, figuring we'd pretend we didn't know it was illegal if we got inspected again. A summons arrived a week later with a $1000 to $5000 fine, and a date to appear at New York City's Department of Buildings, before a judge.

We appeared on the scheduled date; certain that once we explained how easy it was to open the gate and showed how the gate was the entrance to our home, the violation would be dismissed. John made this video and photos to show the judge how easy it was to open the gate.

Click, and you will see what we showed the Judge.

The Judge, a friendly gracious lady, wanted John's autograph; she'd actually seen my blog, and our Air Broadcasting videos. The fire inspector and another judge attended the hearing. Everybody loved our photos and the video, but, according to the law, the gate was an "obstruction."

We lost the appeal. Our fine was the "low" end of the scale -- merely $1000, but the entire floor-to-ceiling steel structure had to be removed immediately.

Why? Our tenants -- a part-time vintage clothing store on the second floor, a retired photographer on the first floor -- must have access to roof. The stairway to the roof is in the fourth floor hallway. Though our tenants have access to the fire escape in the front of the building, they can't get to the roof if our gate is closed and locked (which it is). And even if the door to the gate were left open, the frame work is illegal -- the fire department "must have unobstructed access to the roof."

Shocked, devastated, we pondered how to maintain our lovely life style -- racing up and down our red-carpeted stairway, making coffee in our kitchen, galloping down with coffee, cookies, snacks -- being able to go from home to office anytime, day or night.

Thinking of ways NOT to take down our beautiful pink steel gate, we have phoned friends and lawyers who might know higher-ups in the city's government, who could help us get a "variance." We've considered evicting our tenants; selling the building and moving, but where in Manhattan could we find comparable, affordable space? 

John Cullum's creative mind -- (and his earnings that have gotten us a nest egg of good investments), has solved the problem.

Right now there's hammering, buzzing buzz saw, men working upstairs and downstairs. A semi spiral wooden stairway is already half built. In our studio theater, there are now wooden steps that lead up upstairs to our attic bedroom. 

Since this new stairway (inside our mansion) is not as wide as the hall steps, or red carpeted, I'm thinking of decorating it with tiny Xmas tree bulbs. John says if is too twinkly, he'll connect it to a dimmer, so as we steppy-step, sort of delicately dance up and down, it'll be just be a softly festive, lovely glow.


Lynne said...

As I was reading, I thought an inside staircase would solve your security and access problems in one fell swoop, good job! Thanks for the peek inside your home; it sounds wonderful, can we see more?

Anonymous said...

Where there's a will, there's a way. Congratulations on solving your dilemma.

Carola said...

I'm glad you were able to figure out a solution.

Unknown said...

So, this means you get to keep your amazing pink gate??? I HOPE so!!!

I believe we are also "sisters in decorating" dear Em, since your house sounds like a place I could've decorated! If you've seen any of my pics on Facebook of our current house, or our previous one in Savannah, Georgia, you know I LOVE bright colors and fanciful decor as well! This, of course, doesn't surprise me! :)

I've also had some experience dealing with city regulations, and know what an annoying and stressful process that is! Good for the two of you for fighting the good fight and coming up with creative solutions!

I hope you and John live in your fabulous house for a LONG time to come!!!

Poet_Carl_Watts said...

Dealing with governments is difficult! Cooperating with the law is a requirement to survive in cities. :-)

Unknown said...

Oh for the love of rules and regulations! But, safety first. :)

Anonymous said...

Genius! Where there's a will there's a way. Good for you! I can't picture your whole setup very well, but I can imagine the fix, a literal "Work Around!" Wonderful

Dustspeck said...

The history of your city is a lot to do about fire regulations and the lives lost that brought them into being. The fog of fire is sometimes like the smoke of war. We always hope that it will not reach our door but it inevitably does somehow...someway. You two fought a battle that you could not win but sometimes those are the battles that are best to fight. I like the colors you've chosen for that entryway Emily; an impression that is good. I hope that the new configurations will be tolerable.

Rod Davis said...

There is always more than one way to skin a cat! :-)